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icOn Pure, 5 & MatchMaker

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" November 2020 iMac (i5, 256GB SSD, Ventura 13.3, 40GB RAM), 4TB external SSD with Thunderbolt 3, Audirvana Origin/Studio, Qobuz Sublime, Singxer SU-6 USB bridge, LHY Audio SW-8 switch, Sonnet Pasithea DAC; Active filter: icOn Gradient Box 2; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos, Goldmund/Job 225 on subwoofer; Headamp: Cen.Grand Silver Fox; Phones: HifiMan Susvara, Meze 109 Pro; Loudspeakers: sound|kaos Vox 3awf + sound|kaos DSUB15 on Carbide Audio footers, Audio Physic Codex, Qualio IQ [on loan] Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 6 x 8m with open door behind listening seat
2nd system: Source: Shanling M3 Ultra into Soundaware D300Ref SD transport to Cen.Grand DSDAC 1.0 Deluxe; Preamp/filter: Vinnie Rossie L2 Signature and icOn 4th-order/80Hz; Amplifier: Enleum AMP-23R; Loudspeakers: MonAcoustic SuperMon Mini or Acelec Model One + Dynaudio S18 sub; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF, Akiko Audio Corelli; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~3.5 x 8m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win10/64; USB bridge: Singxer SU-2; Headamp/DAC: iFi iDSD Pro Signature;  Headphones: Final D-8000; Active speakers: DMAX SC5
Upstairs headfi/speaker system: Source: smsl Dp5 transport; DAC: Auralic Vega; Integrated amplifier: Schiit Jotunheim R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a; Active DSP speakers: Fram Midi 120
2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; All-in-One: Gold Note IS-1000 Deluxe; Loudspeakers: Zu Soul VI; Subwoofer: Zu Submission; Power delivery: Furutech eTP-8, Room: ~6x4m

Review component retail ex VAT: $1'200 MatchMaker [80% nickel core, 3 x RCA NextGen WBT] or $2'500 [silver coils, 3 x RCA NextGen WBT silver]; $4'000 icOn Pure with WBT RCA and ultracap PSU; $5'555 icOn 5 with SMPS

Taking the fifth. "You really are quite the moron, aren't you?" The judge in the Appeals Court, minor hifi division, is in a right mood. "You still insist on using your DAC's 9V outputs into an active preamp of 20dB voltage gain into a valve amp of 0.4V input sensitivity into 109dB hornspeakers – and now you want to sue the speaker manufacturer for being noisy and not playing softly enough?" The defendant looks nervously at his attorney. Things don't seem to be going his way. "We've seen you here before, haven't we?" The judge shuffles some papers. "You also tried to sue the valve amp maker for selling you a noisy unit and not refunding you the money after a factory inspection confirmed that it worked 100% to spec." More papers go into disarray. "And before that you tried to sue the DAC maker for some other imaginary offense." The judge looks thoroughly disgusted. "How come nobody as yet has sued you for crimes against common sense?"

With clearly red ears, the defendant looks at his attorney who leans over and whispers into one inflammation.

"Your honor, I plead the fifth to not incriminate myself."

"Dismissed!" The gavel hits the bench at a booming 105dB. Everyone winces. Court is over.

Never mind our exasperated judge. Now you can really solve your self incrimination with Pál Nagy's latest. Stay perfectly quiet. Take the fifth; icOn. It offers remote-controlled click-less attenuation of 168 x 0.5dB steps across a mighty chasm of 83dB. It does this passively with autoformers for zero noise. It then bolts that passive-magnetic volume control to 8 pairs of RCA sockets whose firmware can configure them for 6in/2out, 5in/3out or 5in/2out + 1line-out. There's even an optional AV-thru function. Where others might append a 'reference' or 'signature' suffix then wrap the lot in a full-size box with 1" faceplate and lead liner to faux up weight, Pál just forwards his numerology by one. The previous icOn 4 goes to 5. Thinking folks not waiting for the Appeals Court judge already figured that rather than wicked autoformers with one-hundred sixty-eight taps, we deal with smart firmware and far fewer taps at strategic attenuation spacing to create so many precise gradients. That falls under protected IP. We won't bother to ask how. It suffices to have the perfect antidote for gain poisoning. That's our imaginary defendant's dubious choice of combining numerous high-gain kit with hyper-efficient speakers only to go from mute to Cape Carnaveral lift-off in a few hasty clicks all the while causing audible background hum. No longer must he suffer such indignities. With an icOn 5 installed, his hifi will now treat him very politely. Problem solved. Common sense and civility restored.¹

The rest of us won't travel anywhere near as far across this attenuation chasm. Still, we get to enjoy the same fine granularity of half dB precision all from the comfort of our seat. And should we A/B gear as reviewers or consumers trialing a potential acquisition, matching gain to within half a decibel is key. Also, as we attenuate our source signal, the autoformer action reduces voltage but increases current by a quickly growing ratio. It's probably why such magnetic volume controls are known to excel at low and whisper levels were other solutions go into white-out. Before winter came for real, the UK Audio Show in the Staverton Park hotel had the above global icOn 5 premiere on October 8th and 9th 2022 in the Syndicate 45 room.

¹ Of course even pleading the 5th can't undo the increase in distortion and noise which redundant gain embeds in the signal. But it won't add any noise or distortion of its own. It'll simply enable listening anywhere across the desired SPL range despite unreasonable gain and voltage sensitivity elsewhere in the system.